The small white sign on the door denoting the Allan Herschell Company gives little indication that the 3,000 square-foot space inside holds the life blood of the world’s amusement parks.
Ed Janulionis, who runs the company located on Erie Avenue in North Tonawanda, not only has the history of the Allan Herschell Co. in original plans, drawings, patterns and tooling that reach back to the early 1900s, but also has a mind full of interesting details and history.
When Chance Rides Manufacturing Co. bought the Herschell Carrousel Co. from the Wendler Family in Buffalo, the company moved to Wichita, Kansas, keeping the Herschell name.
In 1997, Chance decided to auction off what was left of the Herschell Company.
The Carousel Society of the Niagara Frontier sent Janulionis to Kansas to keep track of where all the historical plans and the huge inventory would go after it was purchased.
While there, Janulionis met Dick Chance, son of the owner, who told him that the North Tonawanda carrousel museum should be the owners.
“I told him we didn’t have the money to purchase the inventory and he said that if the bid did not go over $200,000, he would donate half of the final amount.”
So, with the consent of the board of directors, Janulionis bid. The bid ended at $189,900 and with Chance’s donation and his agreeing to hold the note for six months, the inventory came back to North Tonawanda and the Alan Herschell Company was formed, completely separate from the museum.
“We have $200,000 in inventory here, along with all the drawings and plans,” Janulionis said. “The drawings are on loan from the museum and in turn, the museum receives a percentage of what the company makes.”
So what do they do with all that inventory, which fills rows of metal shelving?
“We have 500 customers across the country and more than 1,000 rides that still run, almost all built in the 1950s and ‘60s,” Janulionis said.
Eric Anderson, owner of Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Conn., one of the companies Janulionis services, calls the NT firm a “great company.”
“We actually have quite a few rides of Allan Herschell here,” he said. “In fact, we have the first set of kiddie land rides Herschell ever made and we’re constantly buying equipment. (Herschell) was a genius the way he built his rides. They stand the test of time, it was just way they were built — to last.”
Anderson said his company donated one of the kiddie rides back to the museum when his firm ran out of space.
Ron Gustafson, director of marketing and public relations for Quassy Amusement Park, said the firm has to get hold of Janulionis for parts.
“With his engineering degree, he stays right on top of things,” Gustafson said. “We use (Ed) for things as simple as a replacement wheel for a roller coaster and for specialty items that are manufactured to specifications that have to go back to original drawings and specs. When retrofitting, you need to use the same wheels, same bearings…back to the original.”
Dick Knoebel, owner of Knoebels Grove Amusement Park in Elysburg, Pa., boasts of a Looper ride built in the 1950s and completely refurbished.
“It’s the only one running in the United States,” Knoebel said. “Ed and I have a good working relationship, he has parts we need and we have parts he needs.”
“We have four Herschell rides now,” Knoebel explained. “The caterpillar ride with the top that came over, we’ve put inside a building that features a light show. The caterpillar wore out and Ed told us it wasn’t supposed to last over 50 years.”
“Allan Herschell made 40 to 50 rides and made them very well, including carrousels.” Knoebel said.
“Carrousels are the center of amusement parks,” Janulionis said. “There’s something about a carrousel. They appeal to all ages. Whether it’s the music, lights, the horses going up and down, the point is you wouldn’t start an amusement park without a carrousel.”
Nor would you run an amusement park without having the Allan Herschell Company to repair and retrofit the rides.